“The question to ask yourself before [making travel plans/itinerary] is whether you’re conforming to an idea, or choosing what feels personally meaningful and true.” —Sebastian Kodak, “Shred the Bucket List“, WSJ
Spring travel plans are about to commence and schools will be taking their annual spring break, if not already doing so this week, and travel is in the air.
As I begin to make my own plans and set the itinerary for travel later this year, I am reminded of the findings that neuro-scientists and psychologists have found that in fact looking forward and anticipating something we have planned to partake in during a future time increases our happiness in the present moment (source). And so yes, I have been known to plan trips two years in advance (my trip in 2018 to France for a month-long visit), but as wonderful as looking forward to the dream trip is, we actually want the trip to be all that we hope and open to more that we cannot anticipate. How exactly can we plan for something that cannot be forced or made with a reservation?
I share in great detail my Paris Syndrome moment in 2000 in the travel chapter of my latest book The Road to Le Papillon. Without going into specifics here, needless to say, I took great enjoyment of my month-long stay in Angers, where I visited and attended school prior to visiting Paris for the first time, wandering the quiet streets on Sundays, roaming about during the cobbled streets during the long lunches in between classes and nibbling on sweet treats at the local patisserie as frequently as the few francs (yep, francs, while the Euro began circulation in 1999, it wasn’t until 2002 that francs ceased being legal tender) I had on any given day would allow and was surprised when I arrived in Paris and didn’t feel the same, or expected exhilaration I had anticipated.
Holding this lesson in my memory with each opportunity I have to return to France or Britain, I intentionally stretch myself because while I may refer to a travel guide from a trusted source when I return to a destination I have visited before but don’t know well, or am visiting a place for the first time, I have found many of my greatest travel memories come from more quotidian moments enjoyed when I have finally found my vacation rental out in the countryside whether it be Provence or Devon.
With that said, what invites serendipity is contingent upon knowing ourselves. While some of us may never want to return to the same destination on a map twice, others of us (include me in the latter group) may want to do just that. Why? Having some familiarity with the destination, say London or Aix en Provence, when we visit again actually can be grounding and liberating as there is not as much stimulation as there would be during our first visit and thus more peace of mind to explore further and more deeply than we ever could have the first time.
Another point to consider is as the quote above suggests, what would be meaningful to you? Various locales, gardens, architecture and places that denote a historical moment that speak to you or played a role in your own understanding of life, figuring out your life journey, are all reasons that can direct plans when making your itinerary. For example, it is my hope to visit William Morris Kelmscott House in the Cotswolds as his ethos that built the Arts & Crafts movement in the mid-nineteenth century guides my own approach to décor. Similarly, to see the natural beauty of the Lake District where Beatrix Potter pottered away, preserving land and creating her legacy has spoken to me since I was introduced to her and her life story.
However, I share these examples as they are guide-posts, but often what strikes me most profoundly when I am actually living and experiencing my itinerary are the moments that happen around the scheduled event – what piques my curiosity and pulls me to stop, take a detour, rest, slow down, dawdle or make last minute plans to do something I wouldn’t have known about until I was actually there in the town, village or city.
One of my favorite moments in Paris happened in 2019 and was completely unplanned, but occurred as I was walking home from dinner near my accommodations and I saw a chalkboard sign announcing that a young student of music would be performing three of Bach’s concertos in this small abbey, only large enough to hold five rows of chairs, four chairs in width on either side of the aisle. For €20 I enjoyed 90 minutes of this solo cellist’s performance that sang me to sleep after a day that had seen me arrive on my transatlantic flight.
When we leave gaps in our plans, our travel comes to life and offers the priceless insight, discovery and aha moments we cannot plan for, but that affect us deeply and often permanently change our perspective or offer an understanding about our life journey we never knew before.
Whether you prefer to be a traveler or a tourist, perhaps consider being less reliant on the ‘list’ whether you call it a bucket list or any other name, and become a bit more comfortable in not knowing and open to discovering. Each of us will have our own amount of comfort planned to feel secure, for me, I want to know where my head will be resting each night and when my flight will be landing well ahead of packing my luggage to set out on my journey, but then, let go and follow your curiosity, say yes to opportunity.
Speaking of opportunity, sometimes that opportunity will arise while literally on the ground at your destination, but sometimes the opportunity arises before you leave, even being the catalyst for making the plans in the first place. Seize such opportunity. When something crosses your path while reading a newspaper article, watching a program on television, listening to an acquaintance or seeing something on IG that speaks to your interest even if you don’t know why, explore further. This is your curiosity speaking, this is your true self saying, there is something worth exploring. And whether you make the travel plans to see it with your own eyes or not, there is a reason it crossed your path and caught your eye. That is serendipity just as much as happening upon a cellist’s pop-up performance while strolling the streets of Paris.
Wishing you travels that delight and bring many moments of awe so when you return home that quality of your everydays deepens.
Bon Voyage et Bon Courage!
~Image: captured looking out from the villages of Ménerbes in the Luberon region of France in 2018
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